I have a new 9-year-old step son that seems to have every behavior quirk and tick in the book. He has a severely self-restricted diet and will often refuse to eat entirely. He has major problems with emotional outbursts; he throws toddler-like tantrums and is sometimes violent. He has a complete lack of regard for other people's space/belongings, which I mostly attribute to being an only child so far and not being taught how to act. He is diagnosed as ADHD and medicated day and night. His meds have been adjusted several times in the past year, and he does seem to be on a dosage that works best for him (for now). He also sees a counselor once every two weeks, and it's difficult to say how helpful those sessions have been.
We have him 50% of the time, and have been working HARD to approach his behavior problems with gentle parenting and some discipline (time outs when he really goes overboard). I've been researching my brains out on child psychology and parenting methods/tools to try on him. Some have helped, others have not. When he's with his mom the other 50% of the time, he is allows to do/eat/watch anything he wants and there is no real parenting at work. She sees him as a "buddy" and lets him stay up too late, eat junk food for dinner every night, and even shows him the dating sites she is on. She is not at all supportive or cooperative in anything we have tried to do with him, and works hard to undermine his relationship with us (by talking bad about his dad and getting mad at him when she found out he had my phone number in his cell phone). Basically, it feels as though all the hard work we do is undone as soon as he goes back to her house. What's worse is that when he gets within a few hours of the hand-off, his behavior tanks severely. If there's a meal, he refuses to eat it because he knows he can have junk food when he goes back to her house, for instance.
I'm at my wit's end with this kid, and so is DH. We are expecting in September and although my step son is pretty thrilled to become a big brother, I worry a LOT about what it's going to be like. As a first-time mom, I want to be able to raise my baby in a loving, calm, healthy environment... and that does not exist while my step son is with us. I do not want to end up with TWO babies in the house, especially when one of them will be a 4th grader this fall. With a complete lack of support from his mom, how can we ever be effective in helping him improve and outgrow these behaviors?
I'd love to hear from anyone in a similar situation (with the other parent being uncooperative or even hostile)... either about how you cope to save your own sanity/blood pressure or practical tools to put into place to work toward a more peaceful household. Right now, it often feels like complete chaos when my step son is here, and it seems like we're all just watching the clock until it's time for him to go back to his mom's house. We try to make our time together a good mix of fun things and regular life stuff (chores, gardening, just hanging out around the house) but it doesn't seem to matter what the activity is. He will find a way to make it stressful, and this mama-to-be is losing it!
I hope that some wise mamas chime in! I have experienced this a bit in that dh's ex is a "buddy" parent, but since we only have dss about 20% of the time it isn't as much an issue as it is for you. It still comes up, though, like dss doesn't do his homework and gets crappy grades yet has no consequenses for that (or anything else). It's so frustrating to be so powerless, I can certainly relate to that.
Hi catzia, I have five children, one with my current DH and four from a previous relationship. Two of my children have special needs - ADHD, learning disabilities, PDD NOS (which is an autism spectrum disorder), sensory processing disorder, adjustment disorder with mood and behavioral disturbances, expressive receptive language disorder, auditory and visual processing disorder, anxiety, childhood apraxia of speech, hypotonia . . . it's a long list Anyway your stepson sounds like there is more going on than just ADHD. I would say autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with sensory issues based on your description of his behavior. Meds for ADHD and ASD are similar but I found that they had a negative effect on my oldest DS. I never put DS2 on any. We have switched to GABA, L-lysine, and Vayarin with great results. We also changed DS1's school environment and the behaviors significantly decreased. It's all about understanding the child and his triggers. Food refusal and limited diet are a problem for my DS2. I thought he was just picky but an OT evaluation uncovered a bunch of sensory reasons why he favors certain (junk) food. Anyway the point is my DH could hardly stand living with DS1 before we got the appropriate diagnoses and therapy. It got so bad with the tantrums that DH almost moved out! But all that changed once we uncovered what the neurological disorders were and what had to be done. You really just can't parent a special needs child the same way you do a typical child. Once DH and I understood everything we were able to get on the same page with our expectations and parenting as a team. As a stepmom with biomom involved 50% of the time it might be hard to get your DSS what he needs in order to improve behavior. My ex kept undermining all the work we were doing and there would be regression after visits with bio dad . Lucky for me bio dad moved several time zones away and since then things have improved dramatically. I have to constantly remind myself about what realistic expectations are for my boys because they are different from my other, typical, children. If there is anyway to get DSS a neuropsych eval and an OT eval, I would start there. As far as getting bio mom on board with appropriate strategies, I have no advice because I could never get through to my ex.
You might want to cross post in the special needs parenting forum. Also check out this http://www.livesinthebalance.org/
RiverSky - Thanks for your perspective on my situation. I will take your thoughts under consideration!
pattimomma - Thanks for sharing your story! I do sometimes suspect there might be other things at work with this kiddo, and I would love if we could delve further into it. Unfortunately, we can't do anything without his mom on board, and she can't be bothered. It breaks my heart that she isn't interested in getting to the bottom of whatever his issues are and truly helping him. If she had her way, he'd be on an even higher dose of his ADHD meds so that he'd be a zombie all day!
PrimordialMind - Thank you for your suggestions! I agree that focusing on building positive, healthy habits is a good focus. We do try to do that. It's easy to get hung up on the negative when DSS is being a pain, especially when his mom is outside honking the car horn repeatedly!
I know we will find a rhythm that works in time. A lot of things are new for all of us right now, and I try to emphasize to DSS that we are all learning and that we're all in this together. He seems to appreciate that sentiment when he's in the mood to hear it. :)